More money invested in roads than rail, is this the modal shift?

Land Transport

Source: Rail Freight, 2021-11-25

Railways are constantly hailed as the future for sustainable mobility, and leaders stumble over each other to say that we need a shift to rail. But when looking at the investments that were made in rail in the past years, it is clear that rail has not been a priority, shows research by Investigate Europe. 

Independent platform Investigate Europe analysed data of the amount of money invested in transport infrastructure across Europe to compare railways to road and air transport. €843bn was invested in railway networks from 2000 to 2019, according to OECD data (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.) In the same period, investment in road infrastructure totalled 1,341bn.

RailTech earlier reported that there is indeed no sign of a modal shift to rail, following a market report from the European Commission. Compared to other land-based passenger transport in the EU, rail’s market share has been stuck at around 7,8% between 2015 and 2018. The percentage of rail inland freight transport has mainly decreased and was 18,7% in 2018. 

Next to countries allocating budget to infrastructure, the EU also has several funds. There are three main sources for financing rail projects at the EU level: the Cohesion fund, European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF.) Investigate Europe analysed all of them for the two funding periods of which usable data was available, namely 2007-2013 and 2014-2020.

Analysis of data shows that in total, at least €62bn were provided for the development of rail networks across the European Union between 2007 and 2020, of which 48,6bn for the TEN-T network. These Trans-European Transport Network corridors are prioritised by the EU, as they are important sections for international connectivity. However, 82,5bn went to roads and motorways in the same period, of which around 43bn to TEN-T.

The European innovation initiative Shift2Rail, which aims to develop rail through collaborative research and innovation projects, started its journey back in 2009. The need for a shift was already seen back then but was not reflected in the allocation of European investments to transport. 

More than €16.5bn from the CEF fund went to rail projects in 2014-2020, while 2.1bn went to road and €1.5bn to airports. The CEF programme contributes to the implementation of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) by financing key projects to upgrade infrastructure and remove existing bottlenecks whilst also promoting sustainable and innovative mobility solutions.

Of the CEF fund, the highest amount of money went to the construction of the Brenner Base Tunnel and the new Lyon-Turin Rail Link Mont Cenis Base Tunnel, with respectively almost 880m from CEF being allocated to Austria and Italy for the first and €814 for Italy and France for the second tunnel.

Of the new round of CEF funding, for 2021-2027, which was adopted in 2021, €25,81bn goes to transport in the EU. In any case, an amount of €1,56bn is reserved for rail projects between cohesion countries in Europe, of which Rail Baltica is the main beneficiary, receiving €1,4bn. In 2021, there are 7bn for transport available. Next to railways, this can also go to roads or waterways, for which projects can be submitted until 19 January 2022. It thus remains to be seen how much of the CEF and other European funds will go to rail and if roads will still be prioritised in the coming years.

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